Boeing’s space capsule takes astronauts to the ISS for the first time on Monday | Science

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The Starliner space capsule from the American aerospace company Boeing is finally ready for its first manned flight. Two American astronauts will be launched to the International Space Station from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on Monday evening local time, the American space agency NASA announced.

This is an ultimate test flight of the Starliner, before regular flights can be carried out to and from the ISS. According to the current schedule, astronauts Butch Wilmore and Suni Williams will lift off aboard the capsule from Cape Canaveral on Monday at 10:34 PM (4:34 AM on Tuesday) using an Atlas V launch vehicle. They should dock with the ISS on Wednesday (at 6:46 a.m. Belgian time). The effectiveness of the capsule will be tested for just over a week.

The astronauts have each stayed on the ISS twice. “It will feel like coming home,” Suni Williams looked ahead. But on board the capsule, “everything will be new and unique,” ​​her colleague Butch Wilmore added. “I don’t think any of us could have ever dreamed of being linked to the first flight of a completely new spacecraft.”

Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore in the Boeing Starliner simulator. © AP

NASA ordered the capsule from Boeing ten years ago, but the program faced many hurdles and delays. The capsule’s first manned flight has also been postponed several times, after Starliner reached the ISS for the first time – unmanned – in May 2022.

“There were a number of surprises that we had to eliminate,” said Boeing executive Mark Nappi. But “that has made our teams very strong and proud of the way they overcame every problem.” He added that ten years for the development of a spacecraft to carry people is quite normal.

Boeing Starliner space capsule. © AP

The stakes are also high for NASA itself. A second capsule that can carry American astronauts, alongside the Dragon capsule from billionaire Elon Musk’s SpaceX company, is “very important,” said Dana Weigel, who heads NASA’s ISS program. It offers more flexibility, for example if there were a problem with one of the capsules.

The US space agency had in 2014 given Boeing a $4.2 billion contract and SpaceX a $2.6 billion contract to develop the capsules. SpaceX’s Dragon capsule carried astronauts for the first time in 2020.

Once the Starliner is operational, NASA plans to alternate between both capsules to transport astronauts to the ISS. The space station will normally be decommissioned in 2030, but both capsules will then be able to transport astronauts to future private space stations that various companies want to build.

NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore.
NASA astronauts Suni Williams and Butch Wilmore. © AFP
AP
© AP

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